Q&A: John Hackworth Reviews delle Nazioni Tournament

The U.S. Under-15 Boys’ National Team won the Tournament delle Nazioni in Gradisca D’Isonzo, Italy last week after defeating Austria 3-2 in the final. The tournament was hosted by Austria, Italy and Slovenia. Overall, the team went 3-1-1 in the tournament, reaching the final after defeating Italy in penalty kicks 5-4 in the semifinal round following a 0-0 draw in regulation. It was the first-ever delle Nazioni title for the U.S. The event included a host of traditionally strong international teams including Brazil, Italy and England.   

U-15 BNT head coach John Hackworth spoke with ussoccer.com to talk about the win and the continued progress of the team.

ussoccer.com: What are you overall thoughts on the team’s performance in Italy and how special was it to win the Tournament delle Nazioni for the first time with the USA?

John Hackworth: “Obviously when you win a tournament, especially the way we did, it’s incredibly rewarding and pleasing, but it wasn’t without some difficulties. In the end I’m really proud of this young group of men because they grew throughout the tournament and did it against some older and stronger international opponents and beat two host nations and faced the other host nation on their home field, so quite an accomplishment by this group.”

ussoccer.com: What does a win do for the confidence of these young players?

JH: “I think that winning, and especially winning in the way that we did, is really important for development because it teaches players about the importance of preparation and the process, and also that winning is not something that is done without some practice. To go there and to play with our principles in mind and at the same time get the results that we needed in order to be successful, that component of the player development was really important for this group.”

ussoccer.com: What experiences can these young players gain from playing in international tournaments overseas?

JH: “There are a lot of basic experiences that you gain from seeing international competition and being in a foreign environment and having to face different challenges both from a tactical nature and an environmental and cultural standpoint. When you put all of those together and are successful on the field where you do get results, I think that puts a reward on the training and preparation that a group does. Now there’s a belief that you can be successful, and while the things that we experienced on our home soil are a little different than the things we experienced abroad, we can still be really successful. That’s really important for those young players that they have the belief that they can do that.”

“For this group of players it’s really important because no U.S. team has ever gone there and won it before. You look at the Italian team that’s won this tournament several times. For us to play them in the semifinals and really play a very good game where we were deserving of winning in regulation, and yet we had to win it in penalty kicks, was significant. We had to overcome being down to the last Italian shooter and they could’ve won it if they were successful. There’s a lot there that’s important. Now I think that group of young men can look around and say ‘look we faced some really good competition, and it’s one thing for the coaching staff and people to tell us that we have the ability to be successful, it’s another to actually do it, especially in the fashion in which we did.’ We stuck to a lot of really good principles and we played a little tactically different against Italy, but in my opinion we were the better team.”

ussoccer.com: What were the principles and keys in the games against Italy and Austria?

JH: “You go into this tournament and it’s not like you’ve scouted these opponents. Against Costa Rica, Slovenia and Austria we were playing older 99s, and while we started a couple of 99s the majority of their group was older. Against Croatia we played our 2000s and they played their 2000s. Against Italy, while they were 2000s, there was a pretty noticeable physical difference between our side and theirs. My point is we stuck to what we wanted to do in terms of our style and our preparation and implemented the principles that we want our players to both attack and defend in. We talk about the importance of transition and all the things we believe are going to make our group play better far down the road from what they are doing right now. That being said, we did have to adjust tactically to play both Italy and Austria when it counted and the discipline and the tactical ability of our young guys to execute it was really impressive.”

“I’ve been to a lot of international tournaments, and when you have the success that we did and when you do it against the types of opponents that we did, you definitely have now reinforced that belief that we are making really positive steps forward in our playing development. In competing against some of the best teams in the world, we are on that same level. I think this is a really good sign for this particular age group. If you look at the current U-20s and the current U-17s and this pool of players, this becomes exciting, because it looks like our young teams are playing at a level that some of the best teams around the world are doing and we’re being successful with our results as well.”

ussoccer.com: How can this team’s success spur further successes down the road?

JH: “Having these 20 young men be successful can only push the pool. I’ve said it before: it’s a very deep pool and there were some really tough choices in that roster selection. I think it drives the level higher and higher. I know guys that were in camps with us earlier in the year and sent me text messages or emails that said, ‘Hey, congratulations to the boys. I can’t wait until I get called into the next camp or event.’  This result is going to push those guys that weren’t there that much harder to get their spot and hopefully when they are called upon they will rise to the challenge as well.”

ussoccer.com: How do these camps and tournaments propel these players to the next level?

JH: “Our training and our preparation is to ultimately go up the pyramid to the U-17s. That’s the next stop for this age group. Hopefully we have reinforced a lot of those ideas that Richie Williams wants to see out of his team, and like his team we have now been successful in winning a tournament that had the likes of Brazil and Mexico and England and Italy and teams that have won it in the past. For the first time we can say that we are champions.”